Keeping Our Souls From Being Flat

In today’s Gospel[1] we see something happen that, sadly, is becoming less of a possibility today.  In the midst of doing their daily routine, working for their existence, four men were able to see beyond and recognize the transcendent truth, indeed recognize God. Peter and Andrew, James and John, in the middle of a busy day heard the voice of truth, the Word made flesh, and took an extraordinary move towards it. Through their ‘daily noise’ they heard God call and put aside everything they knew and valued to travel an unknown path.

What is becoming less of a possibility today is the ability to be sensitive to the promptings of our God.  In many cases the people of today, especially the youth, are so numb to their surroundings that they don’t even recognize those around them, they don’t hear each other; to try and hear our God is just that much harder.

In a talk given on March 14, 2015 in New York City Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln Nebraska said ‘When we aren’t careful, our technology can make us flat souled – very bored and very lonely…When we only encounter others through electronic media, we become callous about their humanity.[2] Profound words about what the technology of our society is doing to us.

Brothers and sisters, Christ called the four men to spread His message. God’s message and our response to it, religion, is built on the foundation of human interaction, we need each other to learn from and teach to.  Our faith is faith in a person, and it is by people that we are introduced to this person, to our God.  It is urgent that we bring back to society the awareness of those around us. We need to witness to interpersonal relationships and not a virtual version. To do this we need to start with ourselves, we need to detach from the cyber and embrace the human. If we don’t then the most human of all messages – love – will start to be an abstraction; God will be an abstraction; and, at least for me, that is one definition of hell.

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[1] Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A: Matthew 4:12-23
[2] 3/14/15 talk in ‘The Art of Beautiful’ lecture series – Taken from the journal Sacred Architecture, Issue 30 2016

To Decrease

Homily for the final Sunday Vespers at my original parish (1o.5 years of Vespers).
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In today’s Gospel St. John the Baptist reveals to us a great attribute of a Christian, one that enables us and ennobles us. Humility.  As he spots Jesus walking towards him on the beach he points to him and says: ‘‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ‘He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’’[1] He effectively directs those who follow him to follow the Lord.  He removes himself from fame and importance because he knows the truth and it is the truth that is most important.

His ministry was extremely popular and most effective. He was able to bring many to the river for ritual purification and by doing so, prepared them for the advent of the Lord; prepared the soil of their souls so they could accept the truth.  His ministry is now fulfilled, and that was ok with him.  He had done what needed to be done, what God had prepared him for, which was: ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,[2] This was his calling from birth, his vocation was this and only this, no more no less – and that was ok to him.  When the time had come he resolutely decreased so the Lord could increase.

This is the way of our calling as well; we are given talents and time to affect our surroundings as the Lord desires. Ours is not to win the battle of salvation but participate in it and to move forward in the journey. Ours is to use what is given us and point to who is most important: the way, the truth and the light – Jesus. This doesn’t make us unimportant, it doesn’t reduce us; rather it shows how integral we are to the Lord’s plan and to each other.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest act in life is to listen to God, allow Him to guide us along the journey, a journey that only He knows the path. Our response to His love is to trust completely. He might move us from the comfortable to the uncomfortable but He will move with us. He might need to change how we participate with Him, allowing someone else to fill our place; but His grace will always be with us. Our part in His plan is to participate within Him, within Him. So, in all the things He calls us to, let’s remember St. John the Baptist’s words and make them our own. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3]

I would like to close this homily and my part in our Sunday Vespers with words from John Henry Cardinal Newman.

God has created
me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which He
has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. [4]

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[1] JN 1:29b-30
[2] LK 1:76-77
[3] JN 3:30
[4] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations & Devotions Part III

Along with St. John the Baptist

(In the past month my bishop has transferred me to a new parish. This is my first homily as their deacon.)

As you have already noticed our vestments are green again; it is now Ordinary Time.  This season will soon give way to Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter but will return after that. I like to think of Ordinary Time as the season of learning how to be a follower of Christ; it is, in a very real way, the School of Discipleship.  It is a time when Holy Mother Church proclaims the readings of Christ living His ministry among the people. The time in His life, from the River to the Cross, when he proclaims the Kingdom of God and reveals the Father’s plan; when He transforms those who follow Him to be living witnesses of His message.

It is most appropriate that this season starts with the words of our Patron, St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[1]  Powerful words; words that we hear from our priests at every Mass while gazing on our Lord held high before Communion. Words that elicit from us the response: ‘Lord, I am not worthy…[2]’ which echoes the Baptist’s words[3]. These words are foundational in our walk with our Great Teacher. This proclamation is also a short description of our lesson plan for Ordinary Time as we start, once again, to reflect on just who Jesus is to us, what He does for us, what He brings us, and what He expects from us. It is obvious who Jesus is to St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[4] Now it’s our turn to start to reflect on our understanding of Christ and our response. Maybe the best way is to make the words of St. John the Baptist our own.

Who Jesus is to us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we recognize Jesus as our savior. That He is the way to eternal happiness and salvation, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[5] He tells us in John.

What Jesus does for us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we follow God who humbled Himself, who lowered Himself, who offers Himself for us. God-made-man who is our sacrifice. His great sacrifice will be celebrated more intensely in the Lenten season, Holy Week, and Easter season, but we will witness to His daily sacrifices of living among us in this great Green Season. He shows us how our daily sacrifices bring us closer to holiness.

What Jesus brings to us.
We proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that Christ Himself brings the light of God; the light that shines love upon all creation. Indeed, Jesus is the Light, the light that will penetrate us during our reflections on the readings during this season. The light that allows us to see clearly the path of joy and peace, as well as the evil that is around us. The light of truth that can guide us through our choices.

What Jesus expects from us.
We need to proclaim Christ’s message by walking the walk that St. John the Baptist did. The Baptist’s witness was not so much his words, but more by how he lived his life within those words, how he lived the Word of God, Jesus Himself.  How he stayed within the light of Christ, warmed by it, guided by it, strengthened by it, even in his time of doubt. He witnessed by his life how he decreased so that Christ would increase, allowing God’s glory to radiate through him. In short, Christ expects us to follow the life of the Baptist. 

Our challenge
Our parish has taken as their patron the greatest of all the prophets[6], and with that selection comes the great opportunity and obligation to proclaim to the world all we will reflect on this year. To make our own the Baptist’s words: ‘Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.[7] by how we live our lives in the Public Square.  Our faith isn’t one of secrecy, we don’t live it in private, behind our doors. It is a public faith, one that everyone should be able to see. One that shines with the truth of God and brings hope. By living our faith in the open means that both successes and failures will be open for everyone to see, and that is ok; it is by how we move on from them, especially our failings, that will mark us a real follower. With heads held high we witness that: ‘I am not perfect; I am sinner and I am trying not be. Yes, I didn’t do what I proclaimed but I am trying to. But, I am loved nonetheless by God; who loves you too.’

Brothers and sisters, this can be a daunting, scary journey if it was left up to us alone. But, we are not alone, we have each other on this journey, we have the help of all the saints and angels, we have our Blessed Mother. But most importantly we have the Lamb of God who defeated death for us and opened the gates of heaven for each of us. Let’s take our strength and courage from our Patron and herald the Lord through our lives, and to do this let’s make this year’s Ordinary Time a spiritually fruitful season for not only us but those we witness to.

Let’s do this together, you and me.
Let’s help each other radiate our Lord.
And most of all: Let’s start now.
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[1] JN 1:29
[2] Roman Missal
[3] MT 3:11; LK3:16; MK 1:7; JN 1:27
[4] JN 1:29
[5] JN 14:6
[6] LK 7
[7] JN 1:34

Light To See The Devil

There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle.  Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle.  What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.

On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.

Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.

God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad.  This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.

Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

Living Our Life

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and for me, a deacon, it is a special feast day.  I make sure to read his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a heroic ‘play’, Stephen out-argues the established intelligentsia, doesn’t fear the outcome (death) and proclaims great words. Usually when I am done I reflect on what he did and whether I could do the same, then I pray for the strength that he had.

All of this is good. But this year I am struck by the idea that his great acts weren’t things he all-of-a-sudden did; his actions are really the result of how he lived his life.  That he fearlessly held to the truth regardless of the outcome was the result of his firm understanding of the truth and that God was with him always.  His, ability to pray for those who gave false witness and those who stoned him wasn’t some great feat of will that he had to dig deep for but came from the daily love of neighbor that he had.  These events in his life were not some heroic self-sacrifice that he rose to, but was the result of another sacrifice that he knew was for him.  He was a loving servant of Christ!

C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.[1] Brothers and sisters, this is the paradigm of a Christian, we recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in which contains the knowledge that Jesus is within everyone. When we can obtain this paradigm then those ‘great acts of heroism’ we are called to are actually just living our life as always.

St. Stephen pray for us.
Merry Christmas!

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[1] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’

Radiant Beauty of Unnoticed Minutes

This past Thursday, the senior staff of the parish where I work, along with the pastor, sat in a classroom and celebrated our year in serving the mission of the parish, and of course the upcoming Christmas. There were just the five of us, celebrating in an empty parish since we closed the office at noon. The main part of our celebration was watching the movie ‘The Nativity Story’.  We ‘gifted’ this movie to the rest of the staff, but we sat together and watched it.

I have seen this movie a few times, it is always a beautiful and spiritually fruitful experience.  Today, however, I was struck with something that, though obvious now, I seemed to have missed in the past. What we were watching was a movie about individuals trying to follow their faith in the daily trials of their lives. Towards the end, at the birth of Christ, the movie powerfully showed two people, man and wife, who had gone through so much together, enduring the fear and joy of childbirth, alone. They were facing the next trial of their lives which was parenthood, and they were also facing a new phase of their faith life. Could they raise the child of God? Could their wisdom and love bring to adulthood God Himself? Were they worthy of such trust? I kept reflecting on that throughout the rest of the day and during the evening I remembered the Responsory of morning prayer that day in the Liturgy of the Hours.

You will see his glory within you;
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.[1]

Brothers and sisters, as we enter the celebration of the Nativity of Lord, as we gaze with our hearts in amazement and humility at the baby in the crib, God Himself, let’s remember that it was the daily lives of Mary and Joseph, that brought us this celebration. It was by struggling through each day of their lives, through the temptations and hardships of life, that Mary and Joseph participated with God in His incarnation and nativity. No great plan on their part, it was just living their lives as best as they could by following God that mankind is given the chance to receive God’s gift of salvation.

Let’s remember and follow their example. It is not doing great things that we bring the Kingdom Heaven to earth as much as it by living our lives in faith, day by day, seemingly unnoticed, that the great things God offers comes about. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine love also consists of little things.[2] It is by living as Mary and Joseph did, and the countless saints since, that we will truly see His glory within us, and by doing so the Lord will continue to dawn on us in His radiant beauty.

May the God of mercy and love reign in our hearts, especially in those ‘unnoticed minutes’ of our lives.

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Responsory for Advent Lauds (Morning Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours.
[2] St. Josemaría Escrivá ,The Way #824

He, Who Can Heal Us

One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn. In spite of the increased decorations and festive environment the interaction among the people out and about has become less. People used to smile and wish each other good will; there were events that drew them together and they were well attended. There was fellowship, regardless of any religious meaning. This has seemingly diminished greatly – and I have to ask myself why.

There is a societal numbness today that is the result of a loneliness, an isolation that comes from, as Fr. Thomas White writes: ‘the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance.[1] Modern society has built itself into a great amalgam of views and attitudes, life styles and choices. This amalgam of life philosophies allows each of us to find our own path to happiness which is a false happiness – a false peace of heart. It offers a ‘peace through coexistence’ by allowing each of us to detach ourselves from those around us because they don’t adhere to our understanding of truth and happiness. In reality it is a false peace of coexistence by not co-existing. There is nothing to bring us together in a healthy fellowship. There is no internal fulfillment, because mankind is meant to be together. So, as evidenced in the holiday scene people pass each other by oblivious to anything except their selves – a social numbness.

As I just mentioned, this mindset of individual philosophies of life doesn’t bring us to fulfillment and mankind needs to be fulfilled in order to have real peace in our hearts. This is shown by the manic tint of the daily experience that comes from the hunger for wholeness not addressed by these individualistic philosophies of modern society. Why? Maybe because philosophies are cold, lifeless exercises of the mind not the heart. Maybe because philosophies look within and away from others. Maybe because philosophies don’t offer and accept human emotion. Maybe because philosophies can’t affect the soul. In short, maybe because philosophies don’t offer love. Men and women need to feel loved, they need to embrace and be embraced. Mankind needs to realize the true value of each other and celebrate it. We need relationship not philosophy.

There is a gap between what mankind is striving for and what they are meant for. This gap has been around since the fall of Adam and Eve. That our society has taken it to new and aggressive limits is worrying, but in varying degrees and intensities it has always been there. We can see it in the great and ancient O’Antiphons that we started to celebrate yesterday. We can also see in the O’Antiphons the answer to this philosophical malady – Jesus Christ. Christ is the love that brings all other love together and makes it healthy. Christ is the fulfillment of mankind’s needs and goal to their journey. Christ is the center of what mankind needs the most – relationship – love! It shows us the realization of what is important – Jesus Christ – a person, not a philosophy. When we proclaim the O’Antiphons we are calling out to a person who is the:

Guide of creation,
Giver of law,
Sign of God’s love,
Opener of gates,
Splendor of eternal light and sun of justice,
King and keystone.
Who is: God with us.

We call to Him who are these things, and we ask Him to do something for us, to:

Teach us,
Rescue us,
Save us,
Free us,
Shine on us,
Come to us,
Be with us,

Brothers and sisters, we have now reached the time in the Advent season when we turn our minds and hearts to the great medicine for modern society. We start to focus on the start of what gives us hope and shows us total fulfillment – Christmas. When the transcendent God, aloof from mankind and almost an abstract indifferent ideal, made Himself present to us, real. When the true philosophy of life, the one that makes everyone whole, became touchable and touching, lovable and loving.  Let’s prepare ourselves to allow His touch, His love, tangible and real, to affect our hearts, to affect our minds, and maybe just as important to do the same, through our witness, to those we encounter. The O’Antiphons, after all, are not just titles of Christ and petitions to Him, they are also charges to each of us and actions required of us. Because, Emmanuel, God with us, is more effective, more fruitful, when we bring Him to each other as gift.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

May your Christmas be a blessed one.
May the infant Christ reign in your hearts and minds, and guide you in your witness of His love.

 

The O’Antiphons

December 17
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

December 20
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

December 21
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

December 22
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

December 23
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
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[1] Catholicism In An Age Of Discontent, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, November 2016